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Delaware business owners don’t need to stop at state MBE certification. Here’s how to go national

Not getting the traction your minority-owned enterprise needs in your hometown? Look to the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the federal 8(a) Business Development program.

National certification can help you do business beyond your backyard. (Photo by Cottonbro on Pexels)

This is the first in a five-part series called Checking the Box. The series was underwritten by the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce. This story was not reviewed by the Chamber before publication.

Minority certification can open doors locally. But it’s just the beginning.

For the past four features of’s five-part Checking the Box series, we’ve been exploring supplier diversity and ways that Delaware businesses who fall into one or more of the Delaware Office of Supplier Diversity’s (OSD) certified groups — minority, women, veteran, service-disabled veteran and disabled individual — can find opportunities to do business with the state and private corporations.

We looked at the new-as-of-September check boxes on the state’s business registration and renewals, and where that data goes, and why. We looked at Maryland, a bordering state that does significantly more business with diverse suppliers than Delaware, and what it’s doing differently to make that happen. We explored the history of supplier diversity set asides and goals, and how other mid-Atlantic states are handling them. Then, we went straight to the Delaware OSD and learned more about the process of certification and debunked some misconceptions.

Throughout the course of reporting this series, has interviewed academics, data scientists and state employees about the process, and found that there has been a general lack of awareness about minority business enterprise (MBE) certification and the supplier diversity gap that exists between Delaware and its surrounding states.

In part five, we’re going to look beyond the borders of Delaware and into the regional and even national benefits that come from certifying locally.

National MBE certification

You may know that there is state (and in some municipalities, city) certification, which puts your business into a publicly accessible directory used by state agencies and local corporations. There is also federal certification, a separate, more involved process that is required for federal contracting.

For many minority business owners looking for national certification for corporate contracts, the nonprofit National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), which serves Delaware, Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey through its Eastern branch (aka the EMSDC), is the next step after certifying with the state.

NMSDC-certified businesses receive support from the organization both regionally and nationally, with 23 affiliate regions, an MBE services rep from EMSDC told This allows businesses that may not be getting as much traction as they’d like in their hometowns to access opportunities elsewhere.

The EMSDC acts as a sort of liaison and an advocate for minority vendors, as well as a consultant for corporate members who need help identifying and selecting vendors for upcoming projects.

There may be contracts that ask for the federal 8(a) Business Development program certification — the federal program for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals — and if that happens, the EMSDC will help navigate that. For the most part, though, an EMSDC certification should cover your needs if you’re looking to do business regionally or nationally.

Other national certification organizations you may qualify for include:

If you’re specifically looking to do business with state agencies outside of Delaware, you can apply directly through its supplier diversity office, the same way you apply in Delaware. You can certify your business in any state(s) you want to access their set aside or goal programs, as long as you are certified in your home state first.

The 8(a) Business Development program

The 8(a) program offers training and technical assistance to small socially and economically disadvantaged businesses in order to prepare them to competitively bid on federal contracts, including federal set asides.

The first step in registering as an 8(a) is to get your US Small Business Administration certification as a small disadvantaged business. The government offers resources for completing the process, including a checklist of what you’ll need to get started.

Unlike the state MBE certification and NMSDC, the 8(a) program is not technically race-based — however, the Small Business Act defines socially disadvantaged individuals as “individuals who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities and the social disadvantage must stem from circumstances beyond their control.”

Individuals who fall under that definition by the SBA are Black Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Pacific Americans and Subcontinent Asian Americans, so if you qualify under for other MBE certifications, you would be legally considered socially disadvantaged. You qualify as economically disadvantaged as long as your yearly adjusted gross income is under $250,000.

What makes 8(a) not race-based is that a person who does not fall into one of those racial or ethnic categories may apply and make a case that they are socially and economically disadvantaged. Women and veterans have separate SBA set aside programs, so individuals in these groups don’t need to make a case for being disadvantaged under 8(a).

Once a business is 8(a) certified, it receives one-on-one business development training for the program’s duration of nine years. The business owner will also have access to free training from the SBA’s 7(j) Management and Technical Assistance program, mentorships and other resources.

These certifications will help you grow your business out of state by taking advantage of generous set aside goals in other states and on the federal level.

If you want to grow within Delaware as a minority-owned business, let your state officials know, and work with OSD or groups like this series’ underwriter, the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce.

Companies: State of Delaware / U.S. Government
Series: Checking the Box

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